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Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation launches new investigation

By Sarah May
|
December 29, 2022

In response to complaints about the involvement of children in a sexually explicit drag show running in South Florida, the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) has launched an investigation, as The Hill reports, a move that is in keeping with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' pledge to fight back against the sexualization of kids.

The controversy stems from a Dec. 26 performance in Fort Lauderdale of a production titled A Drag Queen Christmas, which detractors allege was of a graphic sexual nature and was “marketed to children,” as the outlet notes.

Investigation launched

According to Fox News, the event at issue was held at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and incorporated highly provocative content, lewd dances, and sexualized costumes, and though the venue stated that admission to the show was limited to attendees 18 years or older, younger patrons could attend, provided they were accompanied by a parent, something which triggered the aforementioned state probe.

DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin released a statement about the DBPR's action, declaring that the agency is “aware of multiple complaints about a sexually explicit performance marketed to children held in Fort Lauderdale on December 26. The Department is actively investigating this matter, including video footage and photographs from the event. DBPR will, like in other cases, take action.”

“Exposing children to sexually explicit activity is a crime in Florida, and such action violates the Departments' licensing standards for operating a business and holding a liquor license,” the statement added.

Griffin's communication concluded, “The Department frequently conducts investigations into these matters upon tips provided by the public, and we thank the public for continuing to bring attention to these incidents. Investigations of such allegations will remain a priority for the Department and, indeed, are ongoing.”

Continued crackdown

The news of the Fort Lauderdale probe represents the latest in DeSantis' efforts to end the proliferation of sexually explicit drag performances at which the attendance of children is not only permitted, but encouraged, as The Hill noted.

Back in July, DeSantis lodged a complaint against a Miami restaurant that hosted a “drag brunch” attended by children, and in doing so, cited a Florida Supreme Court ruling from 1947 which held that “men impersonating women” in a “suggestive and indecent” manner is a public nuisance in and of itself.

In a press conference held at the time, DeSantis opined, “Having kids involved in this is wrong. That is not consistent with our law and policy in the state of Florida, and it is a disturbing trend in our society to try to sexualize these young people.”

As The Hill further noted, Florida is not the only state in which lawmakers are attempting to curtail children's exposure to drag shows, as evidenced by a recent move by Republican Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson introducing a bill that would place “adult cabaret performances” and shows featuring “male or female impersonators” on the list of adult-focused enterprises forbidden by law from operating within 1,000 feet of churches, parks, and schools.

In a related vein, U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) proposed legislation in October that would prevent federal funds from being used to provide “sexually oriented” material such as that relating to “any topic” surrounding gender identity or sexual orientation to kids 10 and under, a move with strong similarities to the Parental Rights in Education Act, signed into law earlier this year.

Probe supporters speak out

News of the state's probe into the latest controversial drag show has, unsurprisingly, drawn reactions from both sides of the spectrum, indicative of the deep divide on culture war issues in Florida and beyond.

As the Orlando Sun-Sentinel noted, Heather Moraitis, former Fort Lauderdale commissioner and wife of former Broward Republican Party chair, George Moraitis, heralded the decision to probe the event.

“It doesn't surprise me that Gov. DeSantis is taking a position on drag shows and sexually explicit actions in front of children. The videos and photos the governor's office received were serious enough to trigger an investigation. We don't need to oversexualize our children.”

Local attorney Mark Bender took time to protest outside an Orlando performance of the controversial show, holding a sign that read: DRAG QUEEN SHOWS ARE NOT FOR KIDS,” the Sun-Sentinel further noted.

“We're here to raise awareness. I don't think people are aware of how sexualized these shows are. They can have these shows, just make it 18 and older,” Bender opined.

Drag fans fire back

Offering a different point of view was Patty Sheehan, Orlando District 4 commissioner, who attended the performance in her town and said on her way into the venue, “I think that drag queens and transgender people are being used in these culture wars to target people who are experiencing gender dysphoria, and there should be an understanding, not an attacking of them.”

Kaity Danehy of Women's Voices of SW Florida voiced support for the drag performance, opining, “What we're seeing is a continued attack on the LGBTQ community and culture by people that are trying to stay in power. Drag is awesome. Drag is fun and freeing and frankly this is nothing more than using queer culture as a steppingstone to [political power].”